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Sleep Paralysis

Many people experience feeling paralysed while they are partially awake but dreaming. This may be due to the fact that voluntary movements are inhibited during periods of the dream process. All brain signals to the voluntary muscles are stopped. Therefore if we become slightly awake and attempt to move at that time we feel paralysed. This is not sensed as a problem if we are unconsciously involved in a dream. While dreaming another level of will takes control of the body, so any sounds or movements made are not from ones conscious will.

If enough self awareness arises in the dream state, then awareness of the inability to move may occur, along with the anxiety this can arouse. In fact this is probably only a problem to people who are frightened of the paralysis, as for most people, active dreams manage to break through the inhibition enough to cause mild movements and vocal sounds.

Another factor is illustrated by what Susan says in the example below – the harder she tries to move the worse it gets. Our unconscious is very open to suggestion. If this were not so we would lack necessary survival responses. In a dimly lit situation we may mistake a shape for a lurking figure. Our body reactions such as heartbeat, react to the mistake as if it is real until we gain fresh information. Whatever we feel to be real becomes a fact as far as our body reactions are concerned. The fear that one cannot move becomes a fact because we believe it. When Susan relaxes, and thereby drops the fear of paralysis, she can be free of it. This applies to anything we feel is true – we create it as an internal reality.

‘It starts as a dream, but I gradually become aware that I cannot move. The harder I try to move the worse it gets and I become very frightened. I can neither move nor wake myself up. Sometimes I feel as if I am leaving my body. But to deal with the fear I have learned – its a recurring thing – to stop struggling, knowing that I will eventually wake.’ Susan Y.

The excellent description in the following example was given by Roy Herbert. It was taken from a feature he wrote. Unfortunately the news-cutting did not have either the name of the paper or the date with it.

‘In this condition, I can hear what others are saying to make me come to. The bed-room is the one I am in though sometimes altered in layout and the real persons in it may be joined by dream ones. I can speak and even offer suggestions on how to bring me awake, such as cold water on my head, though I am told that the words are not intelligible. I am aware that my mouth is dry. My brain is working on some levels that are far from asleep. I have been able to censor swear words from anguished advice I am offering the rousers for fear of offending them, though I am not awake.

The worst thing of all is that I have almost no power in my limbs while the struggle is going on. The prospect of sinking back into deep sleep, unable to move, is terrifying – so dreadful that I finally burst fully awake with the sensation of shooting up through water into the air.

I don’t think that I can be unique in floating halfway, half awake and half asleep, paralysed but speaking and thinking in a half real world. It might be interesting to hear from other sufferers.

Other strange phenomena occurring either during or on the edge of sleep probably have similar causes, or are linked in some way. Roy Herbert’s description vividly portrays the experience of being locked half way between the ‘waking’ world and the ‘dream’ world, and perhaps that is part of the fear experienced. But the threshold of waking that Roy is trying to approach need not be the one that leads to a loss of the dream state. What I mean is that Roy’s dream imagery stops when he wakes. For many people their dream imagery persists when they wake, and they have to travel further into waking than Roy does to lose the sense of having no control, or of being invaded by experiences from ‘outside’ themselves. See: Reaction to the unconscioushallucinations andhallucinogens

Much of the problems felt by people in these states arises from their relationship to what is being experienced. Many people actually seek the state Roy describes through self-hypnosis. In my teens I studied and practised a mixture of relaxation techniques and self-hypnosis in an attempt to explore what Tate later called altered states of consciousness (ASC). After a few months practice I found I could enter a condition where I had no sense of a body, and felt myself to be awake in the depths of sleep. As I had consciously sought this there was no fear attached to it, and I could rouse myself easily. See Answer to Critics

However, the terror Roy and other people speak of in regard to the paralysis, I have experienced myself, and witnessed in other people, who felt themselves powerless against a spontaneous eruption of emotions or urges from the unconscious.

If we can understand that we have two levels of will, the conscious will that enables us to move around and make decisions while awake, and the Life will that takes over when we dream, creating full surround environments and events, and paralyses our conscious will to some extent. The Life will that we confront in dreams and sleep paralysis is what directs all the functions of our body and mind. It is far more important than our conscious self, and actually needs to take over more fully sometimes to regulate, grow and harmonise our being. When the unconscious will pushes through to waking awareness we experience it as what have been called hallucinations, a voice speaking to us, spontaneous movements or speech, as happens in dreams. For may people who experience sleep paralysis they feel a terror that either some outside force has or is taking control of them; or else they fear they are dying. The images we see if this state are actually created by these fears and are not external beings trying to control us. It is our fear of this great Life Will that causes it. It is strange indeed that we are terrified of our own life process. See Edgar Cayce

If that can be fully digested you can begin to work with and actually gain benefits from what is really an extension of your mental processes and possibilities.

If you have this ability and do not suffer fear, then you have a wonderful talent that could transform your life. Sleep is a huge country that many of us have never explored, and that is why so many people are terrified when they wake up in the very different world of sleep. When we sleep a huge process is at work, the process of life that in fact keeps us alive. That is going on under the surface all the time, but when you wake up in sleep it can feel like an alien force is attacking us – us being our conscious personality. We are so out of touch with life within us that we react to it as if it is an enemy.

Something else we have to realise is that we are also dreaming; so any impressions and information we meet is presented is images and drama. Because dreams mirror what we feel and fear it can be shown as an attack. In other words your fear creates the fearful dream images.

While your voluntary muscles as paralysed another process takes over – your unconscious or inner self – and so it tries to move you apparently against your will. If you stopped fighting it, it would make very sensible movements that are a way of moving you toward healing.

Some people who understand what is happening and allow it. In fact some people have learned to allow such movements while awake. See Life’s Little SecretsLifeStream

We usually think that being awake is the ‘everything’ of life. But if you think about it, it is only a small part of who you are. Every time you go to sleep you swing to the opposite pole of your awareness. You go to the depth of who you are; the very Source of your existence. Of course it is a very different level of being than waking awareness. And to get there you go through levels of existence – and your sleep paralysis is one of the early ones. But most people lose self awareness when they go to sleep, but there are some who can maintain awareness right the way through to the Source. It is an extraordinary experience.

The Levels of Sleep

The first level of sleep we meet is dreaming. That is if we are even a  little bit aware. If we begin too explore this level, the apparently black depths of sleep begin to reveal an amazing life and energy. Light is taken into the darkness.

If we persist in exploring our dreams there comes point where yo8u break thorough the images of dreams  into direct insight. An example of this is as fllows:

In fact the awakening interrupted a dream, which was extremely lucid and logical. I knew clearly, during it, what it meant. I was simply watching leaves, like a fern, grow and expand. As I did so I realised this was an expression of something taking place in my being. Namely, the vegetative (vegetable) forces had been released to greater or more powerful activity. It was very clear in the dream, but I quickly lost much of the accompanying knowledge. But I knew, or experience, that the release was linked with consciousness and will. In some way I cannot yet explain, the power of this process streamed through the will or consciousness, and awareness expanded as the leaf grew. In other words consciousness filled the leaf being grown.

These are only an overview of the process  of exploring consciousness, so the next level is to wake up in the lucid state and goo beyond imagery.

I was dreaming and woke up  in sleep. I was then aware of being in the level of dream images and wondered what was beyond it. Immediately I was in another level in which I could directly observe the subtle energy workings of my body. I saw that I had a slight infection in my lungs, and observed how  it was like  watching fluid moving through a plant. It was a healing action. The I also observed how the energy between my trunk and head was blocked  slightly in my neck. In trying  to understand what the block was I realised it was an attitude I have pf being proud or stiff necked. If it  were not dealt with I could see it would lead to a serious  illness in  my neck.

As can be seen it  is this level of  insight that can radically change ones life. But there is still more.

I became lucid in my dream and realised that I could move deeper. I was already at the level  of seeing into the inner workings of the body so asked the question is there anything else. Suddenly I was plunged into bodiless awareness. I had been here many years previous and  so was at ease  with it. In the past I  had seen that this was the apparent nothingness that is the primal level, and out of it everything flowed. But being curious I asked if there was anything beyond this. I was amazed at what happened next. I was at  the same time bodiless, spaceless and timeless existence, and also here and now in everyday waking  life. It was like Blake described it, “To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour.”

To quote from the feature What we need to remember about Dreaming:

• In life and sleep we have two powerful actions working in us. The first is our waking experience based on having a body, its limitations, vulnerabilities and a particular gender. Our second is the power that gave us life and continues to express as dreams.

• While we sleep our conscious self is largely or totally unconscious, and while we sleep our voluntary muscles are paralysed – so another will or motivating force moves our body. So we have a Conscious Will, and what I will call a Life Will. The first one we have experience of as we can move our arm or speak; but the second will takes over when we sleep.

• This Life Will can move us to speak, to move our body, and in fact do things that we cannot do with our Conscious Will. As Freud pointed out this inner will has full access to our memories. It can do so many other things that are described else where – See ESP in Dreams; Edgar Cayce. This Life Will or motivator has been active for millions of years and we see it working all the time in animals. We are partly split in half because we are often opposed to what our Life Will in us wants. So the only way to express what is good for us is in dreams when our conscious will is largely passive.

• Life Will created your body and pre-existed you as a person you know today. It was working in you prior to your ability to speak or know in the way you do now. But of course it has fantastic wisdom and skills, as can be seen in animals.

For fuller information about the levels of sleep and the different experiences we meet in each, See Levels of Awareness in Waking and Dreaming. See also: movements during sleep; yoga and dreamsLife’s Little Secrets

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Comments

-jc 2011-10-08 9:25:59

it is great….

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-Sue 2011-12-19 0:19:25

I have had sleep disorders since a young child. I am now 50 and can more easily explain. I have sleep paralysis with false awakening.
Most times I can wake myself up. I make myself get completely up out of bed so that I don’t fall back into sleep and the process starts over. Sometimes I only think I am awake, just to learn that I am still sleeping. I also have vivid dreams, lucid dreams, flying dreams. The sleep paralysis is scary and makes me feel exhausted. I have more sleep disorders, but don’t know how to explain them.

Reply

    -Tony Crisp 2011-12-21 13:38:56

    Sue – Obviously you haven’t been told the whole process and so you have not understood how to break it. It is partly because you are scared of it and try to fight it which does not work.

    As it is too long to write here I suggest you read http://dreamhawk.com/dream-encyclopedia/sleep-paralysis/ which explains it fairly fully.

    The point is that it is natural and necessary. If you could relax and allow it then you have an opportunity to journey into and amazing world. I know some people are terrified of being taken over – but in fact it happens every time we dream, our voluntary muscles are paralysed. As explained we have two wills, the conscious and that governing all our life functions. People’s terror is about being controlled by Life itself, which can be moved beyond.

    Please come back to me if you cannot find your way out of it.

    Tony

    Reply

-Marskyi 2012-09-12 19:55:17

H Tony, I really enjoy your articles, this is my first time commenting on one of them.

Quoting this article:

“If we can understand that we have two levels of will, the conscious will that enables us to move around and make decisions while awake, and the Life will that takes over when we dream, creating full surround environments and events, and paralyses our conscious will to some extent. The Life will that we confront in dreams and sleep paralysis is what directs all the functions of our body and mind. It is far more important than our conscious self, and actually needs to take over more fully sometimes to regulate, grow and harmonise our being. When the unconscious will pushes through to waking awareness we experience it as what have been called hallucinations, a voice speaking to us, spontaneous movements or speech, as happens in dreams. For may people who experience sleep paralysis they feel a terror that either some outside force has or is taking control of them; or else they fear they are dying. The images we see if this state are actually created by these fears and are not external beings trying to control us. It is our fear of this great Life Will that causes it. It is strange indeed that we are terrified of our own life process.”

This totally makes sense and supports the theory I already had about this… so you are saying that sleep paralysis is a necessary physiological process if we are not to start to act out our dreams (which could be dangerous) and we’re projecting our own fears on the process… and the imagery we see/experience is a reflection of those fears. Makes sense, makes sense.

Thank you so much! I was looking up sleep paralysis because I just had another episode today… although it’s still unpleasant, I’m nowhere near as terrified of it as I was when I was younger.

The remaining question I have, then, is why do people feel so drained after these experiences?

Once again: love your blog. :)

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    -Tony Crisp 2012-09-16 12:35:55

    Marskyi – I am not sure why people feel so drained after experiencing sleep paralysis. But I think it might be because conflict is a tremendous energy drain, and while fighting against what is in the end themselves it leaves them drained.

    Thanks for your encouraging words. Have you seen http://dreamhawk.com/approaches-to-being/lifes-little-secrets/ – it might interest you.

    Tony

    Reply

      -Marskyi 2012-09-26 19:37:21

      Thank you for the article suggestion…
      Excercises like that are hard for me to do, a lot of toxic shame comes up for me. But like you said in your article, my psyche/organism knows how to handle this toxic shame, maybe I should try stepping aside and letting something greater than me take over?

      I also notice that there is a “life will” inside my dreams too, it manifests as a “force” that will pick me up and transport me through the dream “landscape”. A few nights ago for the first time I asked it ti pick me up and place me somewhere where I would feel happy and safe, and it put me on a sandy beach, on a thin peninsula surrounded by the calm sea, at night. It was frightening to let it take me there but I trusted it. :)

      Thank you! :)

      Reply

-Sorcha Ni Aoidhe 2012-11-11 11:21:59

I dreamt that my daughter and I saw some broken glass and we lifted it to put in a (bin) safely there was more in the dream but remember this bit well

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-Janice 2013-05-04 4:44:12

I have Lucid dreams i have had them since i was a little girl i was scared of sleeping which only make them worse because being tired makes them occur more i do get the paralysed feeling ,unable to move,my body vibrates all over i use to pray when this happend i thought it was evil now that i have done some research on them i have floated many times above my bed and the feeling of returning to my body its a weird feeling kinda special not many people can say that. i try to talk to people but they done get it they must think im nuts .

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-sagar singha 2014-02-05 21:48:14

I have been dreaming these paralysis dreams for more than 12 years, since I was a 17 years old boy maybe. I was terrifying. I could not tell anyone about it!
I always believed it is a spiritual act. whenever I used the net on my bed it never happened. If i fell asleep without covering the bed with the net, most of the time I had that dream. I never opened a window while sleeping. Everytime I left the window open, I saw a shadow of a flying object coming thru it and squeezed (more or less like a rape while i am paralyzed) me in the bed. I FELT OR SAW IT WAS TAKING ENERGY FROM MY BODY.
Now I see this dream once or twice a month. I dont know what to do! If i grab a iron or remember God’s name it disappears. I write OM (hindu symbol) on body before sleep and always keep a knife or piece of iron below the pillow. or a lighter. but i dont think it harms me.
Please reply!

Reply

    -Tony Crisp 2014-02-17 15:51:23

    Sagar – Remember what was said in the entry ‘sleep paralysis’ – that anything you believe in, are frightened of, or are convinced of becomes a real outside object or event in your dreams.

    Think of what you have told me, “Whenever I used the net on my bed it never happened. If I fell asleep without covering the bed with the net, most of the time I had that dream. I never opened a window while sleeping. Every time I left the window open, I saw a shadow of a flying object coming thru it and squeezed (more or less like a rape while I am paralyzed) me in the bed. I FELT OR SAW IT WAS TAKING ENERGY FROM MY BODY.
    Now I see this dream once or twice a month. I don’t know what to do! If I grab an iron or remember God’s name it disappears. I write OM (Hindu symbol) on body before sleep and always keep a knife or piece of iron below the pillow, or a lighter.

    Obviously a net is something you associate with protection, as you do with God’s name, the OM symbol, so you believe and it is real in your life. We all have such a huge power and can create a heaven or a hell for ourselves. But dreams are like a computer game in which you get very involved and face monsters and kill or be killed and nothing has actually happened – you are still alive and unhurt. But in this wonderfully alive virtual reality of your dreams we are all playing the game of life – the game we play in which we face or run away from the things that scare us; in which we explore the depths of our existence or learn how to love – or simply meet a reflection of our own weakness, terror and of course the wonder of your inner genius. For that is all it is – a magic mirror in which we see ourselves naked of pretence.

    Remember that I can always be with you in your dreams to help you face your fears.

    Tony

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